Looking at Recent Positional Market Growth in the NFL

Despite CoVid-19 posing ramifications to next year’s salary cap, several positional groups have experienced strong growth over the last few months. In April, Laremy Tunsil signed a 3-year, $66M extension, eclipsing the highest paid OT, Lane Johnson, by 22%. In early July, Patrick Mahomes signed a 10-year extension worth over $450M. The deal established Mahomes as the highest paid NFL player in NFL history, a title previously held by Russell Wilson. A week later, the Chiefs extended franchise designated player, Chris Jones to a 4 year, $80M deal making him the 3rd highest paid interior defensive lineman, behind Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner. Thereafter, Myles Garett became the highest paid Non-QB for 13 days, after which the Chargers announced an extension with Joey Bosa averaging $27M/year. In addition, in the last week, the Tight End market has skyrocketed, highlighted by George Kittle’s 5-year, $75M extension. With all the recent market growth, I thought it would be important to look at positional groups experiencing the strongest growth over the last year.  

Tight End

Over the last year, no positional group in the NFL has seen stronger growth than the Tight End market. Prior to last week, the Tight End market had been stagnant for years. From 2015-2019, the top 5 of the Tight End market had grown merely 6.91%, the lowest growth rate of all positional groups in that timespan (excluding STs). The gold standard in the TE market was set by Jimmy Graham when he signed a 4-year extension with the Saints in 2015, valued at $10M Avg./Year and 7.5% of the cap. While Graham signed another deal in 2018 with an Avg./Year of $10M, the deal was valued at 5.6% of the cap due to cap growth. During 2020 free agency, the title of highest paid Tight End on a multi-year deal was finally passed onto Austin Hooper after he signed a 4-year contract with the Browns averaging $10.5M/Year. From a dollar perspective, Hooper’s deal was seen as a market reset. However, his deal was valued at 5.3% of the cap, which still fell under Graham’s 7.5% cap figure. Last week, the TE market finally experienced a true reset after George Kittle signed an extension worth $15M/Year, valued at 7.6% of the cap. This marked a 42.85% growth from Hooper’s deal and also eclipsed the gold standard in the TE market, set by Jimmy Graham’s 2015 deal with the Saints.

Offensive Lineman

The top of the OL market has grown 17.71% since last year, thanks to the 3- year, $66M extension that Laremy Tunsil signed with the Texans in April.  The deal marked a 33.3% increase in the LT market and a 22% increase from the benchmarks Lane Johnson had set last year after signing an extension averaging $18M/year. In addition to resetting OL benchmarks by 22%, Tunsil’s extension length of 3 years is extremely favorable as he gets another opportunity to hit the open market after the 2023 season. Per the table below, Anthony Castonzo is the only other player with a shorter deal than Laremy Tunsil, when looking at the top of the market. However, Castonzo is also 32 years old, so a shorter-term deal at that age is expected.

Edge Rusher

The Edge Rusher market has exploded since 2015, with a growth rate of 60.79%. In 2015, Justin Houston set the benchmark at the position, with an Avg./Year of $16.833M. A year later, Von Miller signed an extension in 2016 worth $19.083M Avg./Year. Miller’s deal was then eclipsed in 2018 by Khalil Mack. Mack’s deal was the benchmark at the position until last month, after the Browns extended their former 2017 first overall pick to a 5 year, $125M extension with $100M in total guarantees. This marked a 6% growth at the top of the edge rush market. However, Garrett held the new title merely for two weeks, after the Chargers announced a 5-year, $135M extension with Joey Bosa. Bosa’s extension not only makes him the highest paid Non-QB in the NFL, but his deal is also the 2nd highest ever for pass rushers, in terms of cap adjusted inflation. Michael Strahan’s contract in 1999, which was valued at 17% of the cap, would equate to $33,789,858/Year while Bosa’s $27M extension is 13.62% of the cap. One of the most impressive parts of Bosa’s deal is that shortly after Garrett reset the market by 6%, Bosa was able to build off Garrett’s deal by 8%. Players like TJ Watt and Yannick Ngakoue will certainly reap the benefits of the strong deals and market growth from Garrett’s and Bosa’s deal.


In 2013, Aaron Rodgers was the highest paid QB, after he signed an extension worth $22M/year. Rodgers held the title from 2013-2016. However, since 2016, the top of the QB market has been a game of musical chairs, with a new highest paid QB every year. At the end of 2016, it was Andrew Luck who had an average of $24.594/Year. Luck leapfrogged Brees and Flacco, who had also signed extensions earlier that year valued at $24.250M and $22.133M, respectively. In 2017, Derek Carr became the first $25M+ player in NFL history. Two months later, the title for highest paid QB went to Matt Stafford after signing a deal worth $27M/year. In 2018 alone, a whopping 4 QBs held the title of highest paid QB which started with Jimmy Garroppolo and went through Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan, and ended with Aaron Rodgers after he signed a deal worth $33.5M/year. In April 2019, Russell Wilson became the highest paid QB at $35M. Then last month, Patrick Mahomes eclipsed Wilson’s annual salary by 28.57%, the greatest salary jump at the top of the QB market since at least 2015. This will likely keep Mahomes $45M Avg./Year as the benchmark for at least the next year. While Deshaun Watson is eligible for a new deal, it would be difficult for him to eclipse Mahomes’ deal given he signed his extension off a Super Bowl victory and MVP. However, I would still expect Watson to contribute to the growth of the QB market and his deal should come in around $40M Avg./Year.

Other Markets

The one position that continues to remain stagnant is the cornerback market. Since 2015, the top of the 5 of the cornerback market has only grown 12.91%. The next lowest is interior DL at 24.05%. While Darius Slay became the new highest paid CB earlier this year at $16.683M Avg./Year, the gold standard in the CB market is the Patrick Peterson deal from 2014, when he signed an extension worth $14.01M and 10.53% of the cap. The next recent CB to come close to Peterson’s 10.53% of cap was Josh Norman’s 2016 free agent deal with Washington, when he signed at 9.7% of the cap. Candidates who I’d expect to significantly move the needle in the CB market include Jalen Ramsey, Tre’Davious White, Marlon Humphrey, and Marshon Lattimore. Assuming at least one player signs this season between 9.7%-10.53% of the cap, the new benchmark in the CB market should be between $19.225M-$20.870M. With the amount of draft capital the Rams traded away for Jalen Ramsey last season, he carries the most leverage and very likely will sign at $20M+/year. 

Thoughts on the Christian McCaffrey $64 Million Extension

Pro Football Talk broke down the Christian McCaffrey $64 million extension tonight which gives us a chance to look at the details of the contract and see how is stacks up against some comparable players and for the Panthers in general.

Obviously it’s a pretty strong contract for McCaffrey. Here are the year by year cash flows compared to the other two recent big money running back contracts.

PlayerYear 0Year 1Year 2Year 3Year 4
Christian McCaffrey$19,263,412$27,863,412$39,863,412$51,863,412$64,063,412
Ezekiel Elliott$15,100,000$24,700,000$37,100,000$48,000,000$58,000,000
Todd Gurley$15,000,022$28,050,022$37,050,022$47,050,022$57,500,000

McCaffrey will really jump the field in “Old year” (year 0) payments where he will earn a $19.2 million raise over his existing contract. The other two players earned just $15 million. He will, however, actually trail Gurley in first year new money which looks to be one of two concessions made by his side. He jumps the field with nearly $40 million in new money earned by the second new contract year and got well over $50 million for three years. That number is stunning to me because the natural progression would have been to get to $49 million.

In terms of contract structure I’d consider this also pretty favorable for McCaffrey. Here is the breakdown of the three players based on their effective contract values (this included old and new money) to better put the guarantees into perspective. For Elliot we are only using six years rather than the full eight to make a fair comparison. While the contract years should be a driver of sorts for guarantees in the case of a running back those back end seasons are guaranteed worthless so I think for this it makes sense to use the same timeframe as the other two.

PlayerTotal ValueProrated% ProratedInjury guarantee% Inj GuaranteedFull by next Year% Full by next year
Christian McCaffrey$75,362,500$21,500,00028.5%$39,462,50052.4%$38,462,50051.0%
Ezekiel Elliott$70,952,187$20,500,00028.9%$50,052,13770.5%$37,652,13753.1%
Todd Gurley$69,449,978$21,000,00030.2%$45,000,00064.8%$34,500,00049.7%

The second concession I see here is on the injury guarantee on the contract. Elliot was over $50 million which was over 70% of his four year value while Gurley was at $45 million. McCaffrey is essentially at $40 million. He will get the most quick protection though, with $38.4 million guaranteed within one year of signing. That trails Elliot on a percentage basis but it is the largest of the group and considering the riskiness of the position is a good thing for him. The $21.5 million signing bonus did surprise me a little only because I thought there were better ways they could have structured this but if the goal was to surpass Gurley then he got that done, even if again on a percentage basis he didn’t.

Overall Id say the mission here was to mimic Gurley’s contract adjusted for cap inflation and in that respect it is pretty much mission accomplished with the exception of the injury protection.

As for the cap charges we should be looking at charges of $7.8M, $12.5M, $12.9M, $16.3M, $16.3M, and $12.2M. Those first few years are reasonable which is important especially because there is a good chance that the salary cap in 2021 may be significantly impacted by the Covid-19 crisis. So having a reasonable number in 2021 is something teams should be aware of.

McCaffrey, barring a suspension, will be uncuttable until 2023 at which point the dead money would be $8.6 million. He received the same favorable vesting schedule on his 2022 guarantee that Elliot and Gurley negotiated on their third year guarantee so once that kicks in the dead money will rise to $21 million. A trade that year would cost $12.9 million. None of these scenarios would be ideal for Carolina.

For the Panthers to get any value out of this contract they need McCaffrey to be effective through at least 2023. Anything less than that is really a waste. If we assume that the franchise tag in 2022 will be around $12 million and his 2023 tag would be $14.4 million they could have gone the tag route and paid $26.6 million for those two seasons. On his current contract he will earn $27.86M in additional money by 2022 and $39.87M by 2023.

Basically the Panthers are paying an extra $15 million for the 2022 season and $13.2 million for the rights to both years. The cap number for those years is $12.9M and $16.3M so its not as if there is even a salary cap benefit to not playing on the tag those season. So he has to be on the team in 2023 for this contract to make any sense for the team. As I discussed the other day that would be a long shot but they have to hope he is the one otherwise they will get the same treatment the Rams got a few weeks ago when they cut ties with Gurley.

Age vs Cost: NFL Rosters in 2019

Normally I like to do things like this at the start of the NFL but with the mad rush of extensions right before the regular season began I decided to hold off until we were more current with all the contacts, but now that we are here we can do more roster cutups. The one I wanted to look at today was how old teams skew, relative to their average annual salary, at the top of the roster.

For this I looked at each team’s top 15 players annual salaries and then calculated the average age for each group. The graph is broken up into four quadrants. The top left quadrant represents the teams that trend more expensive and older. The bottom left are teams that are both young and cheap. The top right quadrant is where we get the older and expensive teams and the bottom right are those that are older but they don’t spend as much on those players. My feeling is the further off you are to the top right the more you have riding on this season. Those in the bottom left likely have the least riding on this year.

Age vs cost of top 15 NFL players

So a few takeaways. I think its safe to say that this is the Vikings year they have to win. They have more money invested in their top players and it is by a pretty significant margin- $10 million more than the next closest team. At an average age of 28.9 years they have moved slightly past the NFL average of 28.5 so in many ways its now or likely never for them, especially since the team is looking to be cap strapped next year without changes. I think you could argue similar things about the Rams as well but they don’t have the cap baggage next year.

The Patriots are the only team in the NFL with a top 15 that averages over 30 years of age. Even if you pull Brady out of the mix they average over 30. They are more or less the lone team in the NFL that seems to be following the older path of the NFL that solid veterans are better than unproven rookies even if the upside is not there. One of the key differences here though is that the Patriots group is cheap. The cost of $123 million per year is 6th lowest in the NFL. In the “old days” one of the flops using this strategy was signing players towards their 30+ years to large contract extensions that killed the teams. This is a more economical use of resources.

The Eagles may wind up representing that older philosophy by next year. They are the second oldest team in the NFL at 29.9 years and they are locked into some expensive contracts with void years to limit the cap costs. 12 of their top 15 will be 29 years old by years end.

The other teams in the older side of the bracket that I found a little surprising are the Titans, Cardinals, and Bills. Tennessee did really begin to go all in on more veterans the last few years in hopes of getting something out of Mariota and they need to make the playoffs this year. Arizona Im surprised has not purged more of their team. They have really relied on older player signings to round out this roster. The Bills are another team that I knew signed some cheap veterans to fill the roster but I didn’t realize that they still had so many that were also in their highest paid category.

On the younger end I was surprised by Atlanta. I look at the Falcons as an older team (they do have the oldest overall roster in the NFL) and one that has probably had their window close, but they wound up slightly under the NFL average with a top 15 of just 28.3 years old. They do have the third most expensive group behind the Vikings and Rams so clearly anything but the playoffs would be disappointing, but they are not as over invested in older talent at the top of their roster as I thought.

Once Dallas gets their extensions done they will skyrocket into a similar spot as the Falcons, but probably a year behind where Atlanta is now. Dallas is going to be in a win now mode starting in 2020 if they don’t win it all this year.

Houston stands out like a sore thumb. This is a team with huge amounts of cap room but also a reputation of being one of the cheapest teams in the NFL and it shows. They have a good team but I think you can argue they are wasting the peak of Watson’s years by not at least being closer to the league average in spending. They have the 5th least amount of money invested in their top 15 players. They will be an interesting team to watch next year in free agency. They could open the wallet and go after some good talent or they could pull a Grigson era Colts deal and look for cheap veterans with name value.  With no expensive draft picks they should be spending next year.

Oakland being the youngest team surprised me only because I associate Gruden with looking at the older talent, but for the most part they have kept those contract numbers low so they don’t land in their top 15. They have a number of prime years free agent signings but those are balanced out by first round type contracts on the back end of their top 15 paid players.

2018 NFL Roster Construction

Yesterday we took a look at how much teams are spending on their rosters in 2018 and today we will look at the makeup of the rosters by draft status. In general teams that have more first round type of players are generally considered the teams with more potential though we all know that stars are found in every round of the draft, and many times even go undrafted. So lets look at the numbers.

Breakdown by Current Contract Status

SFA- Rookie12.6%$139,306,034$566,285
SFA- Veteran5.4%$234,178,332$2,230,270

Well it is certainly a young man’s game in the NFL. About 62% of NFL teams are made up of players who are on a rookie controlled contract. Those numbers are important because it keeps costs low for teams. The average rookie contract averages just $1.06 million per year compared to $5.85 million per veteran.

The majority of players in the NFL are operating on a rookie contract that came in the slotted NFL draft. That can date back as far as 2014 though most are from 2015 onward. The second largest category are those who signed contracts following the expiration of this last contract. I consider these players UFAs even if they technically signed extensions in February and didn’t hit free agency.  Our undrafted types make up the third category (most rookie street signings are undrafteds) and then we move into the extension categories.

I think one of the fair points to contend with in the next CBA are rookie salaries and perhaps tying them to increases in the cap. For example the salary cap has risen about 47% since the new CBA was signed, yet undrafted contracts’ values have risen by 22.6%. They aren’t the only ones either as some the later rounds of the draft, where 25% rules are not maximized and bonuses are low, are also only seeing 20% raises. The top 3 rounds more or less keep up with cap inflation. This can lead to big savings for the owners in the NFL and pinch those lower veterans. Its possible the savings go into extensions but Id be pretty sure that they are not helping the $1-$2M type player stay in the NFL. Its just too cheap to keep the rookies.

The second takeaway I had here deals with the Raiders and the trap that so many are falling into with the concept of hoarding cap space. Hoarding cap space to save for paying your young players is fine. Saving it for the thought of free agent returns is fools gold. While unrestricted free agency certainly has some gems look at the numbers on the UFA and veteran Street contract compared to the contract extension. That speaks volumes to the type of player who plays his contract out and enters the market.

Now if you don’t believe that a player like Khalil Mack is worth the contract that’s fine but to go with the logic that you need to build a team and can spread it around elsewhere, then answer the question on who?  In a perfect world where tons of players hit free agency that may be the right play, but in the NFL work where the top players ae never available who are you spending it one?  Four $4M players?  That wont give the production. Do they have two or three building block guys that need extensions soon?  Probably not. The reality is we aren’t at a time when you can get your hands on higher quality players in free agency which is why teams never let those players go.

Where is the NFL finding talent

About 68% of NFL players come via the draft with 32% of players being undrafted.  The low cost of those undrafteds really stands out here and helps those teams fill rosters each year.

Draft RoundAnnual Contract Value% of NFL RostersAvg. Contract Per Player

I had posted these numbers yesterday on Twitter and got a lot of feedback about how this doesn’t tell the whole story of undrafted roles, which is accurate. It is afterall cheap labor. But one of the ways we can look at it is to see who in the NFL has earned a second contract and how much they are earning. That takes the pure draft status out of the equation since they have proven enough to move to the more expensive veteran class.  Here is the breakdown by round of just the veteran players as well as the average value of the top 32 veterans from each group.

Draft Round% of NFL rostersAnnual Contract ValueAvg Contract Per PlayerTop 32 Avg. Contract

This should give us a better idea of a few things. First of all the decline in UDFA and 5th-7th round percentages should probably give us a good idea of how many players are being kept in the NFL because they are cheap versus their performance. Those are arguably the roster spots being taken up for the lower level veteran that can still play but cant find a job.

The UDFA player is more or less on par, salary wise, with the 7th round talent which makes some sense. However there is more variability in that number as the top players who were UDFAs have an average contract of $8.5M a year. So there are plenty of high level players slipping through the cracks of the draft. Finding them isn’t easy but the punchers chance of finding a high level talent is as good as in the 4th and higher rounds.

The first round talent stands out here with the massive paydays but again I can see the logic in the Bears trade when looking at this. The average draft pick in the first round, who remains in the NFL, is earning around $10 million a year. To find a Mack you are going to have to likely land, after factoring in cuts who just don’t make it, in the top 15% of all 1st round selections to come close to the same player. Do two good players and the difference in savings for one of those UFA veterans make it work out in the Raiders favor? Maybe but its hard to see it more than a breaking even range.

Team Roster Construction: Contract Type

The Bengals, Packers, Ravens, Rams, and 49ers all have over 43% of their roster from players on their original draft contract while the Raiders, Saints, Titans, Cardinals, Patriots and Bills are under 31%.

The Jets, Bills, Titans, and Raiders are all over 30% UFA contracts. That’s indicative of poor drafting and dragging your feet on extensions. At the bottom of the list are the Cowboys, Packers, Vikings, Cardinals and Bengals. These teams are strong on extensions and have somewhat minimized trips into free agency while focusing instead on draft development.

The top teams with players on extensions are the Patriots, Falcons, Steelers, Cowboys, and Eagles. The Cowboys are the odd man out here but there others are all in a “mature” phase with their roster in that the core is set up for some time. The Jets are the only team without a true extended contract on the roster which says something about their drafting. The Bills, Colts, and Raiders also have few. These are the worst drafting teams in the NFL.

Not surprisingly the Raiders top the list of street free agents who are veterans. They were enamored this offseason by names from the past. The Cardinals, Lions, and Bills all rank high there as well. Each were tight with the cap and that may have played a role. The Jaguars didn’t even touch any of the cuts.

Finally the teams filling out the rosters with the most cheap talent (UDFA and street rookies) are the Colts, Giants and Vikings, all over 30%. The Jets were the only team under 10% while the Packers, Lions, and Falcons were under 15%.

TeamDraftedUFAExtensionUDFASFA VetSFA RookERFARFAReneg.Franchise

Team Roster Construction: Draft Status

Finally we look at where the players were drafted on each team. Many of these players are still on a rookie contract but many are not.

If everyone played up to expectations of their draft the teams that should be the best this year are the Raiders, Falcons, Saints, Steelers, and Packers. Of course the Raiders are a bunch of old men but if you just blindly look at where the players were drafted they have amassed a talented group. Is that talent still there?  Most would say no. Teams like the Chargers and Redskins would be the other teams with high top 3 round investments.

The surprising one is probably the Vikings who have a lot invested in the roster and have found some of those top tier players in the lower portions of the draft, perhaps not that different than Seattle years ago. If you look at where everyone came from on the team you would not expect much but they are clearly a super bowl contender.

The other teams who need players to play above their draft level are the Colts, who you can argue have the least talented group in the NFL, the Jets, Lions, Bills, and Bears among others.

TeamUndrafted1st Round2nd Round3rd Round4th Round5th Round6th Round7th Round

Looking at a Possible Contract Extension for Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown has been one of the best receivers in the league the past few years, arguably the best. In any matchup he’s faced, even the toughest ones, Brown finds a way to have a big game. It doesn’t even feel surprising anymore when he has monstrous games of ten catches and well over 100 yards. Retaining Antonio Brown for an extended period of time is definitely a top priority for the Steelers, because he and Ben Roethlisberger are a deadly duo.

Continue reading Looking at a Possible Contract Extension for Antonio Brown »

Looking at a Potential Extension for Derek Carr

With Derek Carr eligible for a contract extension upon completion of this season, his third in the NFL, the Oakland Raiders and Carr’s representatives will likely sit down this offseason and try to hammer out a deal.  The Raiders have managed their salary cap in fantastic fashion and are poised to extend Carr without too much difficulty.  What will the extension terms look like?  Much depends on how this season finishes out for Carr, but if he continues to play at a high level, he will be one of the highest paid players in the NFL.

Continue reading Looking at a Potential Extension for Derek Carr »

Mortgaging the Future, Part II

Please read part 1 for the ranking methodology and to see the teams that rank 32 to 17.

  1. Vikings

Minnesota is decidedly average in just about every category. Their future spending prospects went down slightly with the panic addition of Sam Bradford as that puts them in a worse position in 2017 than they are this year. They track almost identical to Seattle in that if this year is good enough they probably can’t add a ton, but they have huge flexibility to create cap room. When you can create that kind of cap room through cuts you aren’t completely selling out your future, even when you trade a first round pick for a player who will backup Shaun Hill in week 1.

Continue reading Mortgaging the Future, Part II »